Marginal #4 “Star Cluster 3” (Review)

marginal

Marginal #4 bring us “Star Cluster 3“, a Best of that really shows how much the group has struggled and what they’ve only recently overcome. A Best Of that closes one of the darkest eras in Marginal #4‘s career. Thankfully there are reasons to think that they’ll keep improving for the next releases as they’ve started increasing the energy and quality since 2015’s “Yo-Ho!!“.

Marginal #4 edition

Marginal #4 edition

Album: Star Cluster 3
Label: Rejet/Pitagoras
Release date: 22/06/16
Genre: J-Pop

Tracklist:

1.ギラギラSpider
2.UFO
3.ハニー♥ポット
4.真夏のジャスティス
5.星祭り~ラララのまーじなる音頭~
6.Yo-Ho!!
7.Oh My WOLF♥BOY
8.もぅまんたい
9.MIRACLE WORLD
10.Ⅳ AILE
11.未明犯
12.To Be Loved
13.愛♥相感図
14.Rebirth

Track by track analysis:

1.ギラギラSpider

With a funky bass leading the way “Gira Gira Spider” brings back the edge and sexiness that Marginal #4 used to have in them. Joining the bass are brass elements, strong drums and top quality guitar work (when was the last time they had such a shredding guitar solo on one of their songs?). Addictive, danceable although it’s not a high throttle dance pop track. Vocally this track is good – the vocal performance is pretty close to their work on “Chu Chu Love Scandal“, mysterious, melodic and sexy at the same time. We’re not too fond of the vocal manipulation with the auto-tune, but we’ll let this slide because the whole track is a major improvement and quite possibly the best they released this year. 5/5

2.UFO

[Previously reviewed] With a retro touch provided by the synths, UFO shows Marginal#4 with a completely different light than we’re used to it. Overly bright and with an instrumental with uncanny resemblances with ELEMENT GARDEN‘s trademark sound, UFO sounds like a shot that completely fired back. With only synths, a heavy bass (the leading instrument in this track) and some synthetic drums, this instrumental piece lacks so much that, for a few seconds, we get a weird idea in our mind “Have MIKOTO and Daisuke Iwasaki gone crazy?“. Not only the lyrics are not that interesting but the instrumental is plain, sometimes irritating and overly repetitive with that retro synth in the background even ruining the only good part of the track – that pre-chorus resorting to a jazzy 10 second, or less, contrabass showcase -. Regarding the vocals: with a track that doesn’t challenge anyone’s singing it’s safe to say that everyone sounded great, but nothing out of the ordinary or jaw dropping for us. 3/5

3.ハニー♥ポット

[Previously reviewed] The first paring track is sang by Toshiki Masuda and Naozumi Takahashi, and once again this pair seems to get stuck with a track that is far from being the best one to showcase both members’ qualities. Bringing back the guitars, at least the acoustic ones, “Honey Pot“, shows a sweeter – and Rejet is being way literal with this one –  side to this duo, resorting to a bright instrumental with brass elements leading the way in this track. And while the track might not sound like nothing impressive, instead it sounds like something straight from “Shounen Hollywood“, even so the duo fared well in their performance but it’s barely impossible to make up for that awful instrumental. 3.5/5

4.真夏のジャスティス

[Previously reviewed] Known as the powerful on sync duo in Marginal#4‘s releases, KENN and Yuto Suzuki are once again pairing up for a track. With a track that might have come straight from T.M.Revolution‘s prime time in the late 90’s, early 00’s, 真夏のジャスティス resorts to heavy synths, pads and heavy guitars and fast paced drums, pure electronic pop-rock right from the bat. And while the instrumental track might get addictive the vocal track blows us away. Power and high energy paint KENN and Yuto‘s vocal performance. If you though you love this duo from the danceable 燃えよ!LOVE★MUSCLE and 恋せよ乙女! or even from their powerful emotional performance in キミとFARAWAY, you’ll be blown away by the power that this track packs. Without a doubt not only the best duo track but also the best track in this release. 5/5

5.星祭り~ラララのまーじなる音頭~

[Previously reviewed] Going straight into a summer festival in Japan, here come Marginal#4 with a rather traditional track. The rock elements are back together with the shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko drums, a mix between the east and the west, this is something that has been a trend in Japanese pop in these past two years, Marginal#4 managed to pull off the mix between cultures in this track with a fun and energetic performance. The playfulness that you get from the instrumental piece grabs your attention right from the beginning, 星祭り~ララララのまーじなる音頭 picks one of Marginal#4‘s trademarks “fan service”, you’ll get what I mean when you listen to this track. If that aspect will make you cringe or else, it’s something you only know. At our end we think that although it’s one of the unit’s greeting cards since their debut in 2013, this kind of trick is getting old and over used. 4/5

6.Yo-Ho!!

[Previously reviewed] Showcasing a completely different sound Marginal #4 bring us “Yo-Ho!!“, a mid-tempo pop-rock track where acoustic guitars are mandatory, replacing the customary powerful guitar riffs and synths from “Ufo“. In a track that is incredibly pleasing to listen – with a well thought arrangement and finally – really finally – a chorus that is not overcrowded or where people sound totally off their element. The vocal parts were also well distributed between the members – with everyone having basically the same amount of time as others to shine – that is so well done in the chorus where members take turns in pairs to sing their parts. With all these minor changes Marginal #4 managed to make the best out of their lineup. The instrumental gives off that “pirate”, picturesque vibe to the all song. Fared well for a title track and was an interesting change away from all those synths. 4/5

7.Oh My WOLF♥BOY

[Previously reviewed] The first duo to make their entrance consists of KENN and Toshiki Masuda – usually known for their out-of-the-box tracks. But if you were expecting something crazy, you know, in that thin line between funny and embarrassing as some of their previous duo attempts, then this time you’re wrong. While synths are still a big part of the song those don’t take up much spotlight away from the mesmerizing bassline provided not by your common bass guitar – it is the powerful and classy contrabass leading the way. With jazz/chillout influences the instrumental picks up the best elements out of both worlds (jazzy guitars, rhodes pianos and those soothing pads in the background), bringing them together with pop synths and synthetic drums. The instrumental piece might not be enough to please you so for your entertainment you’re provided with a duo totally in-sync and for the first time managing to stay on the same tone, not straying away too much. Solid performance on both ends that made this misleading track sound appealing. 4.5/5

8.もぅまんたい

[Previously reviewed] The next duo in line is the well known high note hitters, Naozumi Takahashi and Yuto Suzuki. In a track that once again is misleading – that intro with the biwashamisen and harp really steered our attention away from any possible surprises, especially the ones we got as soon as the first verse started. もぅまんたい is a full out pop-rock track with gritting guitar riffs, splashy drums and once again the spotlight – the slap bass. Without synths or other pop artifices, this track really shines at its fullest with its simplicity – adding traditional Japanese and Chinese elements –shamisen and featuring the biwa in some parts of the pre-chorus was clever and didn’t sound of of place. The vocal performance was energetic and engaging, especially taking into account that both performers are known for being in their natural habitat when they’re singing ballads, not rock songs. Fun performance and great effort from both singers. 4.5/5

9.MIRACLE WORLD

[Previously reviewed] Synths mixed with orchestral elements? Yes, it’s that but only for the intro – don’t be mistaken with the misleading intro – once again -. This is a track that could have been part of the “Uta no Prince Sama” series songs and people wouldn’t find it out of place. Ethereal synths, jazzy guitars, a perfect build up towards a hyped chorus (and how much do we love these hyped choruses?), powerful snary drums and that bassline to die for are just a small part of all the elements present in one of the most complete instrumentals in Marginal #4‘s repertoire. You need several listens to completely find out those small, barely unnoticeable elements in the background but it’s worth the challenge. In the instrumental track we also have to point out the nice ending touch with the music box and the guitar(s) solo in the bridge. The vocal performance was right on point – controlled vocals with all members going for both high and low notes successfully. The best we’ve heard from Marginal #4 in 2015. 5/5

10.Ⅳ AILE

[Previously reviewed] If you’ve been missing the good old Marginal #4 from back in their debut days, then “IV aile” will take you down on a trip in the memory lane. Back to their pop-rock sound from their debut, “IV aile” is a refreshing title song where powerful guitar riffs, a funky slap bass line and bassy drums take over, leaving small room for heavy high pitched synths. With a more balanced and whole instrumental that puts the bass as the core of the track, synthesizers take on a secondary role, where they originally belonged when the group first released “100万回の愛革命“. There are no overwhelming parts in the instrumental which is also a plus. This was a thought on instrumental where everything from the intro to the build up, chorus, bridge and ending fell into place. Vocally it was interesting. It’s not that obvious that the key for this track is slightly lower than usual, and it could have been a bit hard for Yuto Suzuki and Naozumi Takahashi to follow up to a lower register but thanks to KENN and Toshiki Masuda‘s steady low toned performance, they matched well with each other, and the result is that perfect unison chorus. A solid vocal performance with an exciting instrumental piece. 4.5/5

11.未明犯

[Previously reviewed] The first pairs up Toshiki Masuda and Yuto Suzuki in the middle of an addictive electronic pop dance track. Yes, we listened to a lot of dance tracks coming from Marginal #4 in the past, but none of them are this well composed. Relying solely on dirty synths, strings, synthetic drums and electric guitars, this track, although rather simple in its composition, packs a massive punch. The energy brought by the synths and the unstoppable bassy drums alongside those melodic guitar licks in the chorus are enough to grab our attention, and if that wasn’t enough, the bridge is to die for with that powerful guitar solo and synth pads leading to a fabulous build up to the last chorus. Regarding the vocal performance: the chemistry between Suzuki and Masuda is real and we can feel it with this performance. Their tones blended into a steady, powerful melody and exploded in the impressively demanding chorus.  By far the best track this pair has performed. 5/5

12.To Be Loved

[Previously reviewed] The second pair up on this single brings the most technically skilled singers in the group together. Naozumi Takahashi and KENN perform “To Be Loved“, a track that is a complete 360 from the previous energizer. With sweet synth pads and a piano as the background, this ballad took our breath away. It’s impressive how a simple instrumental could be at the same time so emotional and powerful. Major props to the sweet piano solo in the bridge that really made this track win the title of best instrumental piece featured in “IV aile“. The only problem concerning the instrumental lays with the fact that in the chorus, the vocals are difficult to listen to since the instrumental track is with the volume a bit higher than usual, other than that the track is on a stellar level. Vocally Takahashi and KENN‘s mesmerizing high notes bring us close to tears and their harmonization is astounding. Do you know how to describe perfection? 5/5

13.愛♥相感図

[Previously reviewed] This is not a typical track – for real. We warn you: if you think that those soothing synth pads and minimal tech elements in the intro will be a major part of the track you’ll be wrong. If you also think that track will keep that explosive energy from the chorus throughout the song, you’ll also be wrong. 相感図 really takes the concept of unconventional to a whole other level. If we can be more precise this track has three different things going on: that minimal tech intro that would quite possibly grow into an impressive pop track, then the strong pop-rock from the verses and chorus and to complete this, that intermission that is more fit for a drama CD than for a song. Although this is not an awful, out of context song, it’s just a little too much for us to take in on a first listen. Listen to this a couple of times before judging it. On a first listen you might want to scrap it but it’s actually a track that keeps a high level of energy and excitement going on. Vocally it’s a track that once again demands three kinds of performances but not a single one of the members had awkward or sloppy moments. Not the perfect way to complete this single but wasn’t this entertaining? 4/5

14.Rebirth

A song that has put a lot of Marginal #4‘s with they mouth wide open is “Rebirth“, a track that adds the timeless quality from the strings to the synth pads, minimal drums and imposing guitar gated guitar riffs. The instrumental is sublime by itself. It has a certain hidden Latin touch to it in the chorus – maybe because of the strings and piano work in that specific part. But it’s not the only special touch this track has: the edge given by the electric guitar, even if heavily gated, only taking the front seat when it’s time for its solo; also the minimal electronica elements, especially the synths and pads in the background, all of these elements gather in one place making this whole instrumental an entertaining experience. If the explanation sounded complicated: it’s a catchy pop song without the cheesy elements that have tainted Mg#4‘s releases in the past.

In terms of vocal performance, the chorus is incredibly close to the one in “Masquerade” in terms of intonation and structure (although the tempo is slightly slower) – we encourage you to check out for yourselves. Solid track that makes both new tracks being five out five. 5/5

Final rating:4 stars

Marginal #4 struggled for more than one year and a half with mediocre releases. Things went downhill with “UFO“, and from there the following releases dragged what was once one of the best seiyuu units in Japan, back to where they started. It might have been due to Mikoto and Daisuke Iwasaki‘s inability to deal with the growing number of units in Rejet, or maybe it was because the unit members were not on top of their game or a combination of both, the thing is: those were almost two years of bad, overcrowded and overly weird releases. With a quartet as strong as this one, one might think that Rejet would put all their efforts on them (especially because they were the first unit to debut under Rejet) but no. As soon as another unit debuted, the last one is almost forgotten – and this has been done a couple of times so far, so it’s no coincidence that new groups equal bad quality for the next releases of the older units.

While “UFO” was the single that dragged MG#4 to the bottom, it was “YO-HO!!” that made the turning point that fans were so eager to see. Although still a bit weak if we go by their standards when they debuted, this release still was a breath of fresh air, that light by the end of the tunnel for this unit. They were seriously in need of it. Then “IV AILE” followed up perfectly, even winking at past releases with the explosive track 未明犯 and the beautiful ballad “To Be Loved“.

Then we reach this release “Gira Gira Spider” and “Rebirth” bring back the unit’s original sound adding some improvements here and there but it’s basically the formula that we love so much.

Regarding the vocal performances: they ranged from impressive to appalling depending on the track you’re listening to. Overall the member that showed the biggest improvements was Toshiki Masuda that has improved his vocal skills, now being the main support in the group, finally having put behind his back those awkward off key moments he had in the past. Now in total charge of the mid-tones is an improved Masuda, full of control over his tone. The rest of the members don’t have big changes, to point out that even throughout Mg#4’s bad phase Suzuki was still with an impressive drive to sound good – which he did in some of the songs, despite the issues we talked about in this review.

Now, after summing up their career for the past year (and a little bit of this year), it’s time for Marginal #4 to see in which direction they are headed, and now that they are going in the right way, hope they never turn back. With this much amount of talent gathered – Naozumi Takahashi, KENN, Yuto Suzuki and Toshiki Masuda – it’d be awful to see their talents go to waste once again.

Star Cluster 3” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

 

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